Don’t Judge a Record by its Sleeve
A love of vinyl: audio and visual.
Written by Craig Berry
Designer & Writer
Some people like to collect things; stamps, beer mats, football scarves, magazines, posters or even traffic cones. It’s hard to say and sometimes understand why people like to collect things, especially when it becomes obsessive.
I myself like to collect things. Specifically things related to my love of graphic design such as posters, leaflets and tote bags which are quite simple — just printed words and images on paper and material which in themselves don’t necessarily mean much. However, I also love to buy and collect vinyl records, which do mean much. It’s something that I began to do in 2012 when I started going to art college in Liverpool; on the way home I would check out the various charity shops on the way and pick up 90s and 00s trance and rave records; whatever I could find, I would buy since they were so cheap. Records from the likes of A Guy Called Gerald and Basement Jaxx. It was through this that I started to become more interested in graphic design and music (also through studying art and graphic design at art college) therefore these records were interesting to me both visually and audibly.
A few years later and during university I started to visit record fairs in and around Leeds which took place monthly; here I became more conscious about what I was buying as through learning about specific designers and record labels through my university studies and peers I became more educated, now looking for particular records. I remember first finding New Order — Blue Monday for the first time for £2 and thinking I hit the jackpot until I realised this was a pretty common record, one I now have several copies of and will usually buy again if I see it.
Also during university I would travel down to London a few times a year to see my girlfriend where I would always (and still do) make an effort to check out the record stores in Soho. At the time they would sell old drum ’n’ bass, hardcore and jungle records for as cheap as 50p each and the record shops in London would always have way more stuff to look through than Leeds.
I also looked at record shop culture during my second year at university, through photography, illustration and writing I wanted to learn more about this niche scene that existed and what brought people to buy this form of media (part of a three part project also exploring the cultures of streetwear fashion and fixed-gear cycling).
Moving to Amsterdam in 2016 it took me a while to get back into buying records, I didn’t have a record player so I didn’t see the point in buying records as I bought them to listen to as much as to look at and collect. I also didn’t want to amass too much ‘stuff’ whilst being abroad, particularly since records aren’t the easiest thing to transport. However after a few months I gave in.
I remember making a list of the record shops in the city: Concerto, Rush Hour, Waxwell, Distortion, Record Mania, Record Palace, Red Light Records and other smaller stores. Since then I’ve learnt which shops are good for what, which shops release new records and which have great old records, which shops have listening tables and which don’t and recently a shop which has a full DJ set up with tables, a mixer and monitors.
For example Concerto is huge, it’s easily the biggest record shop in Amsterdam, spread over several shops and floors and it is probably the best place to find the latest ‘norm-core’ records; they will probably sell Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift but also have a healthy local music section. Red Light Records is situated in the heart of the Red Light District and you have to buzz the door to actually be let in but they sell rare, second-hand and imported records. And Rush Hour, my favourite record shop and the one which for house/techno/electronic music fans is the place to go; it’s easy to spend hours in there flicking through the thousands of records categorised into genres and labels where you can listen to as many as you like.
It’s here at Rush Hour where I really started to collect records again; now having a job (an internship at the time but now full-time) I was able to actually afford new records and in turn really educate myself on dance music, curating my taste as I went, learning about local producers like Young Marco, Tom Trago, San Proper, Awanto 3, Juju & Jordash and Makam, to name a handful; stalwarts of the Amsterdam dance music scene but also learning about dance music in general, both contemporary and historically.
Fast forward to now and most weekends you can probably find me in one of Amsterdam’s record shops-most likely Rush Hour, but I like to switch it up now and then-looking for the latest releases from my favourite record labels or digging through used records for those special gems.
It is somewhat of a graphic designer cliché that we buy and collect records at times choosing them for the artwork only and I do feel that I have fallen into that several times…
However I’d like to think that I have quite an eclectic and broad music taste and generally enjoy a lot of music genres and often at times with a great sounding record, the fact that the record sleeve is a great design or beautiful image is just a bonus. I also started to notice how many white label records I own, records with no artwork–simply the record name, artist and label on them; proof, if needed, that it’s not always about how they look but how they sound.
Buying, collecting and listening to records is something that could be a fad for me, if so it’s been going on for about 6–7 years now but it’s something that right now, I can’t see myself growing out of. If anything I am collecting more now than ever, and FYI I only own 280 (according to my Discogs page as of 13/05/19) which is really not that many… I don’t think so anyway.
Spread throughout this article are images of some records I own, split into visual categories: illustrative sleeves, typographic sleeves, graphic sleeves, abstract sleeves and photographic sleeves. A small taste of my music taste. Check this Spotify playlist for some of these too.
I have previously written about record sleeve design, specifically from the Factory Records label in the 1980s in Manchester which helped to define an entire style.